Change how to change? Including university Master’s students’ struggles, dreams, and actions into regenerative academic education
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Academic institutes advocate tackling contemporary social challenges by their Third mission. However, a friction with their educational approach can appear: pursuits towards global justice and social equality are entangled and could reinforce those neoliberal values they critique by becoming commodities (Pais and Costa 2020). University students, who aim to contribute to collective social change, can feel frustrations around the pressured focus on individual achievement, productivity, and competition. I base these frustrations on my ethnographic fieldwork among university Master’s students who are members of the Young Innovators Honours Program (YIP) at Utrecht University, in the Netherlands. YIP shifted to a regenerative way of making change by its practices (Wahl 2016). They answer the leading question of this ethnography: how Western academic institutes can support university Master’s students to navigate contemporary social challenges and reconstruct themselves as regenerative changemakers. The practices, I argue, turned individualism, said to be a source of frustration, into possibility, by the three main pillars of regenerative change: reveal authenticity, support collaboration, and encourage reflective crafting. Ethnographic fieldwork can help understand this process as it reveals students’ lived experiences (Hammersley and Atkinson 2019). Being a participant and a researcher, I rely on participant observation, autoethnography, and the creation of a podcast series to assess students’ perspective. I suggest that academic institutes’ contribution to social change should start with changing their educational practices to support students’ development holistically. Regenerative changemaking practices created a social space in which students learned to navigate their frustrations and reconstructed themselves as regenerative changemakers.